The Gifts We Thought We Didn’t Need

Last night, we celebrated my final farewell at the Sheil Catholic Center.  There have been many opportunities to say good-bye to people one-on-one, but it was important to see students in this “official” capacity one last time. Thanks to everyone who joined us, for your kind words, and making the night special!  These were my remarks.

Gift Box

I have a favorite quote from Will Willimon, a professor and former dean of the Divinity School at Duke University. Willimon says:

“This is often the way God loves us:  with gifts we thought we didn’t need
which transform us into people we don’t necessarily want to be.”

I’m really grateful to be back at Sheil tonight for this official farewell. As many of you know, I left Sheil very unexpectedly at the end of June. Since then I’ve been spending a lot of time traveling, seeing family, and catching up with friends and professional colleagues. Two quick stories:

I have a friend who just turned 40. She and her husband recently learned that she is pregnant – again. Needless to say, having another baby was not part of their “plan”. She said to me, “We weren’t ready for this! But by the grace of God and a lot of prayer, we realize what a GIFT this new life is for our family.” This is often how God loves us, with gifts we thought we didn’t need ….

I have another friend, a professional acquaintance, who runs a ministry for homeless people who struggle with addictions. I asked him, “How exactly did you get to be director of such a great organization?” He laughed to himself and said, “I spent the first three years out of college binge drinking and couch surfing. I finally grew up, got sober, and someone gave me a second chance. I’m not proud of the mistakes I made, but by the grace of God I’m still sober. And 25 years later I have a tremendous amount of compassion for those who are homeless and struggling to overcome their addictions.”  God often gives us gifts we think we don’t need that transform us into people we never expected to be…

As I look back at 10 years of ministry at Sheil, I am incredibly grateful for all of it. There were plenty of moments along the way, where I thought to myself, “I’m not ready for this! And this wasn’t part of the plan! And I’m not always proud of the mistakes I made.” But this is often the way God loves us… 

As a campus minister I was invited into some really holy and privileged conversations with students. Students changing majors or discerning vocations, thinking about getting engaged or deciding to break up, the student who got accepted into graduate school and the one who didn’t, when a grandparent died or a mom was diagnosed with cancer, or sitting with a student in the hospital and the RA who had to call 911 over the weekend. All of this in the midst of classes, athletics, music recitals, and theatre productions. And retreats, small groups, service trips, and everything else that happens at Sheil.

It is really incredible to be with people in moments of joy and celebration and in times of heartache and confusion.  Every conversation, every service trip, every retreat, every event on campus, every moment of silence in the chapel is a gift that – welcome or not – God is using to transform us.  And I am certain that God is using all of this to transform me and prepare me for what is next!

In leaving Sheil, there is one thing that I have been reminded of over and over again – and that is how incredibly faithful God is. God has gifted this community with his presence, and God has given you (given us) the gift of one another.  I am confident that good things will continue to happen in my life, and in yours, and in the life of Sheil Catholic Center.

Thank you for letting me be a part of it for the past 10 years.  What a gift!

(Photo from Flickr Creative Commons)

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